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Is Your Teen Depressed?


Ten signs that your teen may be suffering from depression and may need immediate attention

Morrill, Maine – It might be possible that an unhappy, angry teen is suffering from depression, according to therapists. Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate, and surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression, according to statistics from Mental Health America. “Depression is a serious problem that calls for immediate, appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Robin Cubberly, Clinical Director and Therapist at Ironwood Maine.

Often, teens who are depressed will exhibit a marked change in behavior, becoming moody, withdrawn and staying in their room for hours or sleeping excessively. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and stop socializing with friends. Because teen depression frequently presents with other disorders such as anxiety, disruptive behavior, eating disorders, substance abuse, or self-injury, teens may suddenly get into trouble at school, cut classes, become angry, defiant and may experiment with drugs, alcohol or criminal activity.

Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens, as symptoms may be viewed as normal mood swings typical of children as they progress through developmental stages, Dr. Cubberly said. Also, adolescents may not verbalize their symptoms nor be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help. Because of the depressive disorder, the teen may feel that their situation is hopeless and nothing can help — however, proper treatment does work, and will help restore the teen’s mental health, emphasizes Dr. Cubberly.

“If your teen’s sadness lasts more than two weeks and includes any of the other symptoms of depression listed here, it is time to get help from a mental health professional,” said Dr. Cubberly.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

Here are ten symptoms, according to Dr. Cubberly, that a teen may be suffering from depression:

Poor performance in school;
Withdrawal from friends and activities;
Sadness, anxiety, hopelessness;
Apathy, lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation, fatigue;
Anger, rage, problems with authority, rebellious behavior;
Poor self-esteem, excessive or inappropriate guilt;
Indecision, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, irresponsibility;
Changes in eating habits, rapid weight loss or gain;
Substance abuse; and
Suicidal thoughts or actions.

Depression during the teenage years occurs at a time of tremendous change when teens begin to form their own identities, make their own decisions and struggle with emerging sexuality. Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can cause the teen to experience feelings of failure and rejection and can lead to depression. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact and can be overcome by feelings of hopelessness. Depression coupled with stressful or negative events, can also lead to increased risk for suicide, according to Dr. Cubberly.

Depression and suicide affects people of all races and income levels, said Dr. Cubberly. Every 17 minutes, a person dies by suicide in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, a number of suicides could have been prevented with proper treatment such as antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

A National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)–funded clinical trial of 439 adolescents with major depression found that a combination of medication and psychotherapy was the most effective treatment option.

Adolescents with major depression who received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) after responding to an antidepressant were less likely to experience a relapse or recurrence of symptoms compared to teens who did not receive CBT, according to a NIMH-funded pilot study published in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy Successful in Treating Teen Depression

Cognitive behavior therapy is based on the theory that teens can be taught to recognize and react to stresses in a positive, appropriate manner. CBT involves instructing teens during a six- to nine-month program of weekly discussion sessions how to change their tendency to respond negatively to difficult experiences and help the teen feel that their situation is under control.

“It is difficult to change our emotions just by trying to change the way we feel. It is easier to change our negative thoughts or our negative behavior, which will then change our emotions,” said Dr. Cubberly.

The initial step of CBT treatment, according to Dr. Cubberly, is to help teens understand that their mood comes from viewing circumstances as a “glass half-empty.” For example, a depressed teen may routinely berate himself or herself for making mistakes and habitually imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation. These negative responses can be changed with practice, noted Dr. Cubberly.

“Cognitive behavior therapy is effective in changing the way we think, behave, and feel,” said Dr. Cubberly, “which leads to changes in the physical symptoms of depression.”

Over time, CBT helps teens develop a set of skills for overcoming depression. These skills include mood monitoring, identifying cognitive distortions, increasing pleasant activities, goal-setting, problem-solving, and formulating positive, realistic counter-thoughts to combat negative thoughts. Teens can then use these tools when dealing with problems or challenges they may face in the future.

“It takes time and practice to learn new skills and change patterns, as with any new skills,” said Dr. Cubberly. “At Ironwood Maine Therapeutic Boarding School, our licensed therapists specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy as well as dialectical behavior therapy skills training which help adolescent teens with impulsivity, reactivity to emotions, improving rationale, managing anxious feelings and repairing relationships with family and friends.”

Depressed teens who come to Ironwood Maine Therapeutic Boarding School also benefit from Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), a treatment program facilitated by a licensed mental health professional with the assistance of an equine professional where a therapist and teen participate in talk therapy and the processing of feelings as the teen takes responsibility for the care, feeding, grooming and exercising of horses. The goal is to help the teen build skills such as communication, responsibility and self-confidence in a safe environment in which the teen can make mistakes and learn from them.

“The most important thing is that parents observe their teens and take action if they notice any signs of depression, because this is a condition that is treatable,” said Dr. Cubberly.

CBT, animal therapy and DBT are only three of a series of therapeutic tools used at Ironwood Maine to help struggling teens develop new skills to reach their highest potential. Read more about Ironwood Maine’s clinical program here:

About Ironwood Maine Residential Therapeutic School
Ironwood Maine is a one-of-a-kind combination of a traditional boarding school and therapeutic treatment program that specializes in working with struggling, underachieving teens whose behavior is often out of control. Through an extensive and customized therapeutic program and academic curriculum, Ironwood Maine helps teens become healthy, happy and responsible. For more information on the Ironwood Maine program, call toll-free 1-877-496-2463, email us at, or go to


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